Obituary: Former barrow boy who rose through ranks of a retail institution

Roger Heath sitting in his garden at home

Enjoying the sunshine: Roger Heath spending quality time with family at home - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

An Arsenal fan who ended up spending his life watching Norwich City and a barrow boy on a London market who later rose through the ranks of a Norfolk retail institution, Roger Heath's life was a case study in how to embrace an adopted county.

Born on May 2, 1951, in West Ham, London, Roger Charles Heath - who has died at the age of 70 - was the son of postman Charles Alfred Heath and Gladys Ethel Heath, a telephonist for the Post Office.

He grew up in nearby Highbury in the shadow of the original Arsenal stadium, leading to an early affiliation with the Gunners.

Roger Heath smiling at the camera

A proud father: Roger Heath was dedicated to his family and was always ready to offer a hug - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

He attended George Tomlinson Primary School, Leyton, and was absent a lot due to asthma-related issues but showed an aptitude in maths from an early age.

A school report from the time described him as “a steady worker, shows concentration and care" - traits which he carried with him throughout his life. 

Roger Heath driving in his youth

Fast cars: Roger Heath driving in his youth - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

He continued his education at a secondary modern school until the age of 16, and then went directly into work on Smithfield Market, known as London Central Market, as a barrow boy.

His people skills, talent for numbers, and trustworthiness saw him work his way up to wage clerk and bookkeeping for one of the largest businesses on the market. 

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Around this time, he also met Glenda Roundell, a school teacher. The couple would go on to marry on May 24, 1974, at the Methodist chapel in Newchurch Rawtenstall, Lancashire.

Together they had four children; Laura, who was born in September 1979, Richard in August 1982, Claire in December 1984, and Sarah in November 1988. Mrs Heath died from cancer in 2019. 

Roger Heath pictured with his wife Glenda and their grandchild

Happy times together: Roger Heath pictured with his wife Glenda, who passed away from cancer at the start of the pandemic, and their grandchild - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Mr Heath would go on to hold management accountant positions in various businesses but it was in around 1987 that he began his deep association with a Norfolk institution.

At that time he was hired as an accountant by Bakers and Larners of Holt. Two years later, the family moved to Sheringham, where Mr Heath would live up until his death.

At Bakers and Larners, he swiftly became finance director and a key member of the board.

For more than 20 years, he was instrumental in the growth of the business and played an important part in bringing Budgens of Holt into the group as well as expanding the buildings of the historic shop site.

Paying tribute to him, his children added: “Dad was very proud of his role within the wider Bakers family - in other words, all of the employees - and he genuinely loved helping anyone who worked there as best he could.

“People said of him that he always knew what to do in a crisis. He never lost his temper, always remained calm, and knew clearly the way ahead.” 

Outside of work, Mr Heath was a keen cook and owned more than 200 cookbooks. He enjoyed making “amazing meals” for his family, except on Fridays when he would bring home chips as a treat.

He was also a wine guru who loved visiting vineyards and France. He loved music and would buy two music magazines a month to find out about new bands and hear the latest music news. 

“He was just totally loving and open with his emotions and sensitivity and 100pc respectful of all gender, race, and backgrounds," his children said.

“He believed absolutely in love, respect, and equality. 

“His proudest accomplishment - he always answered this in his wedding speeches – was his four children and the lovely people we turned into.”   

His children added: “He was extremely loyal, an excellent sounding board, calm in a crisis while giving fantastic advice, and showed great emotional intelligence. He was funny, loving, genuine, authentic, sentimental, and poetic.  

“Not only was he a great friend, but he was also a fantastic and devoted dad who was incredibly protective of his family. Dad understood people and how to get the best from them.”  

From his love of the food store Waitrose to his “incredibly detailed and largely pointless” stamp collection, his children vowed to remember his numerous foibles which made him unique in their eyes.

They said: “At football matches, he would never wait for the whistle to be blown if we hurt ourselves – he would just sprint on. He always stayed with us in the hospital when we were poorly or broken.    

“We also had nice lunches in Norwich or London before football matches. Usually, Norwich would lose and as we trudged back to the car he’d say: 'Well, we had a nice lunch'. 

“He drove all four of us up and down the country to football and netball matches, as well as taking us to and from university. These drives are where we learned our ethics. He was always willing to travel hundreds of miles to do things with his kids.” 

Roger Heath cuddling his grandchild

Proud grandfather: Roger Heath cuddling his grandchild - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Mr Heath died on January 20 at home with his family. He was a grandfather of eight.